Local Universities to Teach Bystander Intervention

Apr 7, 2021 at 10:05 am
James J. Wilkerson.
James J. Wilkerson.

Before I was the Title IX Guy, I was a law clerk at the Jefferson County Attorney’s office. One sunny day last January, it was my turn to retrieve the office mail, and as I was leaving the Hall of Justice, I heard the nearby screams of a young woman. As I looked down the steps toward the corner of Jefferson and 6th, I quickly discovered the source of the distress. In broad daylight, there was a man trying to lift a woman off her feet and shove her into the trunk of his car. It is not every day you see an attempted abduction in front of the courthouse, but here I stood, part of a crowd that looked on in shock and confusion. As others around me pulled their cellphones out to record the incident, thoughts ran through my head of heroically running down and physically subduing this scoundrel until the authorities arrived as the crowd cheered my bravery. But then I remembered that I am no longer the agile 20-something I once was. I turned around, ran back inside the courthouse, and alerted the bored looking sheriffs sitting by the metal detectors, who were more than happy to delve into the heroics outside. 

Born in Kentucky

The Green Dot program was designed by former UK faculty member Dorothy Edwards in 2006. The goal of the program is to empower bystanders to use prevention methods to reduce power-based violence such as sexual assault, domestic assault and stalking. Today, Edwards serves as the president of Alteristic, the organization responsible for training and certifying Green Dot instructors who will ultimately teach this form of bystander intervention on their respective campuses. 

The program begins by asking participants to visualize their campus community as a map with various red and green dots scattered throughout. The red dots represent incidents of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking while the green dots represent behaviors and choices that can prevent the red dots from occurring. If we can fill the map with green dots, then red dots will not have room to exist, bringing forth a culture change to that community.  

Of course, intervening in situations of assault and violence may not be as easy for some as it is for others. Be it a fear of confrontation or the diffusion of responsibility, people have personal barriers that stand in their way of intervening in specific situations. Green Dot asks participants to identify those barriers as doing so is the first step in finding the proper tools of intervention. 

Perhaps the most crucial area of the training is teaching participants the many methods of intervention they have at their disposal in any given situation. Known as the “Three Ds,” Green Dot designates intervention behaviors into three categories: direct, delegation or distraction. As the name suggests, direct intervention sees a bystander physically or verbally interjecting themselves in a scenario. Meanwhile intervention through delegation includes involving an authority figure like a professor or a campus police officer. Lastly, distraction intervention involves creating a diversion that will defuse the situation. The diversion could be as simple as asking one of the parties for directions or to borrow something like a phone charger or a pen. Through the Three Ds, Green Dot seeks to put numerous tools in the bystander toolbox which can be utilized appropriately in relation to the situation, while meeting the user’s comfort level.

Research from UK in 2017 has proven Green Dot to be a successful program. Twenty-six high schools were studied over the course of five years with half of the schools being taught the Green Dot method while the other half received no bystander intervention training at all. By the third and fourth years of the study, sexual assault victimization rates lowered by 12% at the schools that offered Green Dot to their students. There were 120 fewer incidents in the third year of the study and 88 fewer in the fourth year. 

Local Buy In

As a part of their Office of Violence Against Women grant, 10 staff and faculty members from Indiana University Southeast enrolled in Alteristic’s Green Dot instructor training last December. IUS’ OVW Grant Project Coordinator Nikki Green spearheaded the University’s involvement in the program and invited several staff members from UofL to participate as well. Over four full days, the participants were immersed in the curriculum and at the program’s conclusion, were certified to teach Green Dot at their respective universities.

IUS wasted no time in educating their campus community. Since January, faculty from the university’s Schools of Education and Counseling have already received training as well as the members of the Student Conduct Hearing Panels and a group of academic advisors. “There is a good buzz around the program as people are excited to see how they can help,” said Green. While the training is only available to staff and faculty members at the moment, she states that future plans include training the student body, as several Greek organizations and the Student Government Association have already expressed interest in seeing their members trained. And while the Green Dot team at UofL is not quite ready to share their plans just yet, members of their campus community are also excited about their training launch later in the year. “This training is really important for our campus,” says Assistant Title IX Coordinator Sarah Mudd. Mudd states that 80 to 90% of perpetrators of sexual assault are someone the victim knows. “If we have our students trained, they will be able to identify the warning signs and will be able to help limit the number of assaults, which is the main point of all of this,” she continues.

Green Dot training will hopefully equip local undergraduates with the tools they need to overcome their personal barriers and intervene in a manner that is safe and comfortable to them. As Green says, “people need to understand it’s not complicated.” “Everybody can do something,” she continued. And it is that something that could very well change campus culture.

James J. Wilkerson, J.D., is the director of Staff Diversity and Equity and the Deputy Title IX Coordinator at IU Southeast.